Presidential Food Obsessions
From jelly beans to cheeseburgers and oddities like cottage cheese with ketchup, F&W reveals US presidents’ food obsessions to the American public.Photo © Cecil Stoughton / JFK Library.
Barack H. Obama (2009-Present)
A salty-sweet-dessert lover, one of President Obama’s favorite indulgences is Fran’s Smoked Salt Caramels—buttery caramels coated in milk chocolate and sprinkled with smoked sea salt. The President was introduced to the caramels by Democratic fund-raiser Cynthia Stroum: “He had it backstage before he came out to make his speech,” she told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in 2008. “As he was entering the stage, he saw me and whispered in my ear, ‘Oh my, what were those? Those are phenomenal. I want more.’ So that became my little treat for him.”Photo © Ron Sachs / CNP / Corbis.
George W. Bush (2001-2009)
In July 2007, then White House chef Cristeta Comerford revealed that, “for dinner, the President loves what we call home-made ‘cheeseburger pizzas’ because every ingredient of a cheeseburger is on top of a margherita pizza.”Photo © Roger L. Wollenberg / Pool / CNP / Corbis.
William J. Clinton (1993-2001)
As the governor of Arkansas, Bill Clinton frequented Doe’s Eat Place in Little Rock where he often ate greasy jalapeño cheeseburgers with lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise, pickles and onions. Later, while in the White House, the President’s penchant for McDonald’s fast food was spoofed on Saturday Night Live. After two heart-related surgeries in 2004 and 2010, Clinton became a vegan in 2011.Photo © Joseph Sohm / Visions of America / Corbis.
George H.W. Bush (1989-1993)
Bush’s fondness for fried pork rinds with Tabasco sauce came to light in March 1988 during a profile of his presidential campaign in Time magazine. According to a New York Times article in 1989, “when Mr. Bush expressed a taste for pork rinds, sales jumped 11 percent and he was ordained ‘Skin Man of the Year’ by pork-rind makers.”Photo © Ramin Talaie / CORBIS.
Ronald Reagan (1981-1989)
President Reagan kept a jar of jelly beans on his desk in the Oval Office and on Air Force One during his two terms, from 1980 to 1988. “You can tell a lot about a fella’s character by whether he picks out all of one color or just grabs a handful,” he said.Photo © Bettmann / CORBIS.
Richard M. Nixon (1969-1974)
Cottage cheese and ketchup is a famously favorite dish of the only US President to resign from office. Perhaps the odd combination should have triggered concern that something wasn’t quite right in his office.Photo © Bettmann / CORBIS.
Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-1969)
“Johnson’s dinners were usually the heavy Southern staples he preferred, and he insisted that the portions be big—huge heaps of black-eyed peas and tapioca pudding—and he shoveled the food into his mouth, head bent low over his plate,” writes historian Robert Caro in Master of the Senate, the third volume in his series The Years of Lyndon Johnson. As a senator, Johnson was known to have a hamburger for lunch every day, and was the first president to host a cookout, on the West Terrace of the White House.Photo © Bettmann / CORBIS.
John F. Kennedy (1961-1963)
Boston-native JFK loved creamy New England fish chowder according to René Verdon, the chef at the White House during his presidency. The President was also fond of ice cream with hot fudge.Photo © Cecil Stoughton / JFK Library.
Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961)
In 1955, the Associated Press printed the recipe for Ike’s favorite beef stew, which his wife, Mamie, originally shared with the North Dakota Cow-Belles, an auxiliary of the North Dakota Stockmen’s Association. “The Cow-Belles were a bit taken aback at first because the recipe was for 60 portions,” the AP reported.Photo © Bettmann / CORBIS.
Harry S. Truman
“I like well-done steaks,” the President wrote on a food questionnaire that’s now in the archives of the Harry S. Truman Library. “Mrs. Truman’s chocolate cake and chicken and dumplings. [My] mother’s custard pie and fried chicken.” When asked how he preferred fried chicken, he wrote, “Ask mamma—she’ll know how. Haven’t seen many who do.”Photo © Bettmann / CORBIS.
Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1945)
One of FDR’s preferred foods was a gooey grilled cheese sandwich, according to Henrietta Nesbitt, the White House housekeeper during his administration. Other all-American favorites included scrambled eggs, fish chowder, hot dogs and fruitcake. Nesbitt said that the president liked foods that “he could dig into.”Photo © Bettmann / CORBIS.
Warren G. Harding (1921-1923)
During his two years in office, President Harding developed a reputation for hosting men-only dinners. The guests ate sauerkraut and knockwurst before playing bridge or poker under a cloud of smoke, according to The President’s Table: Two Hundred Years of Dining and Diplomacy, by Barry H. Landau.Photo © CORBIS.
Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909)
Fried chicken covered with white gravy was a favorite White House meal of Teddy Roosevelt’s. “The President said that his mother had always said it was the only way to serve fried chicken; that it gave the gravy time to soak into the meat, and that if the gravy was served separately he never took it,” writes historian Edmund Morris in Theodore Rex, the second book of a three-volume chronicle of Roosevelt’s life.Photo © CORBIS.
Abraham Lincoln (1861-1865)
“Once in a while my mother used to get some sorghum and some ginger and mix us up a batch of gingerbread,” said Lincoln, who grew up in a modest household in rural Kentucky. “It wasn’t often, and it was our biggest treat. One day I smelled it and came into the house to get my share while it was hot. I found she had baked me three gingerbread men, and I took them out under a hickory tree to eat them.”Photo © CORBIS.
Andrew Jackson (1829-1837)
During his first Inaugural Ball, Jackson served a 1,400-pound wheel of cheddar cheese, from which the public was invited to carve chunks.Photo © Bettmann / CORBIS.
Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809)
While serving as US minister to France, Jefferson spent “more than 200 francs for an initial stock of 59 bottles of Bordeaux—200 francs being the equivalent of three-month’s wages for the average French worker,” writes historian David McCullough in the biography of John Adams; the second president was a close friend of Jefferson’s. During Jefferson’s two terms in office as the third president of the US, he spent $10,855.90 on wine, which in 2012 is equivalent to $212,860.78.Photo © Bettmann / CORBIS.
John Adams (1797-1801)
In the Pulitzer Prize-winning biography John Adams, historian David McCullough reveals that “a morning ‘gill’ of hard cider” was the “preferred drink before breakfast” for the second president of the United States. Before rising to the highest office, Adams was dispatched to France for two years, where he loved the food though he missed American staples. During their time overseas, Adams’s wife, Abigail, “sent off orders for shipments of his favorite New England cheese, bacon, white potatoes and cider.”Photo © Bettmann / CORBIS.
George Washington (1789-1797)
“Washington liked to crack nuts [with his teeth] as he talked, a habit that he later blamed for his long history of dental trouble,” writes historian Ron Chernow in Washington: A Life, a biography of the first President of the US. When Washington became President, “a lonely lower left bicuspid” was his only natural tooth. Although Washington was rumored to have wooden dentures, his false teeth were actually made with “a combination of human teeth, animal teeth, and ivory,” according to the Smithsonian Institution.Photo © Corbis.